HURLBURT FIELD – They haven’t gotten on planes yet, but defense contractor Lockheed Martin has delivered a new laser weapon to the Air Force.
Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) headquartered at Hurlburt Field intends to mount the weapon on the already heavily armed AC-130J Ghostrider, which is part of the aircraft arsenal four C-130 multirole turboprop engines piloted by the command. .
Lockheed Martin announced on October 6 that it had completed factory testing of the high-energy airborne laser and sent it to the Air Force “for integration with other systems for ground testing and ultimately testing. in flight aboard aircraft AC-130J “.
Lockheed Martin won the contract for the work in 2019, but AFSOC has been considering the use of directed energy weapons, such as radar directed at the Ghostrider, for several years. In 2017, for example, AFSOC began an incremental evaluation of a laser system aboard the Ghostrider, with the laser weapon mounted in place of the aircraft’s 30mm cannon, which operates from a space slightly in front of the aircraft’s wings and engines.
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In a press release released this week by Lockheed Martin, the vice president of the company’s Advanced Product Solutions division expressed his supreme confidence in the laser weapon, saying the technology “is ready to go (commissioning). in service) today “.
AFSOC plans to fire the new laser weapon from an AC-130J Ghostrider next year.
At present, the Air Force is preparing for ground tests, which will be followed by flight tests of the High Energy Airborne Laser (AHEL).
In addition to the Air Force, the AHEL system is also intended for use by the US Navy.
In July, the Naval Surface Warfare Center awarded Lockheed Martin a five-year, $ 12 million contract “for technical services, integration, testing and demonstration of the AHEL system,” according to the press release from the AHEL system. aerospace company.
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AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Jim Slife spoke about commander’s interest in laser weapons two years ago at the annual Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber ââconference near Washington, DC
âThe goal is to provide an armed surveillance capability using directed energy,â Slife told Signal magazine at the time. “Armed surveillance” describes a range of capabilities, from close air support for ground personnel, to precision weapon strikes, to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work.
âThe testing of this and the on-going integration work is all going at a steady pace,â Slife told the magazine, adding â(we) haven’t seen anything so far that leads us to believe that everything isn’t. is not achievable in the short-term time horizon we are working on.
Two years before Slife’s comments, Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the former AFSOC commander, described how the laser weapon system could work in the field.
Describing a hypothetical scenario of an attack on a terrorist complex to National Defense magazine, Webb said, âWithout the slightest bang, whoosh, thump, explosion, or even the whirr of an aircraft engine, four key targets are permanently disabled. The enemy has no communication, no evacuation vehicle, no power supply, and no retaliatory intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. … A few minutes later, the team leaves the compound, terrorist brains in hand. A successful raid. “